Until at least the end of October, I'm endeavoring to watch a movie every day. Typically, it will be a movie I've never seen before, although there might be the rare occasion that I rewatch something
In the essay accompanying the Criterion Collection’s release of Blast of Silence, Terrence Rafferty notes that the film was both behind its time, in that it was released after the noir craze in the United States, and ahead of its time, in that Pulp Fiction would revitalize the public’s interest in hit men thirty-odd years later. Oddly enough, the film itself straddles this timeline. Its plot is very similar to anything from the noir period – tough-as-nails criminal tries to do a simple job, and in the process gets mixed up with a girl and old friends from a life he thought was long gone. But running alongside this is a very knowing narration done in the second person, a stylistic flourish that wouldn’t be too out-of-place in the post-Pulp Fiction landscape.
In fact, had this film been better known, it’s not unlikely it could have had the same impact as Breathless, a film in many ways the Pulp Fiction of its day, and shot the same year as Blast of Silence. It’s that big…well, almost. There’s no question that Breathless is one of the most important films ever, and it even now it feels revolutionary (which tells you something about how little the film industry learns over time), but Blast of Silence is also a very American thing, relying on very American ideals and attitudes.
Take, for instance, that everything that happens to Frankie outside of work could just as easily happen to the thousands, maybe millions of Americans who travel on a weekly basis for work. Perhaps that wasn’t as big a trend in 1961, but like Rafferty said, the film was ahead of its time. The cultural significance of Christmas is a recurring topic; it’s important to note that Christmas has no religious affiliation in the film, aside from a mention that Frankie’s target went to church that day. Christmas is viewed in very American terms – the willingness of near-strangers to take people in, the loneliness, the memories that crop up for good and (in Frankie’s case) bad. I knew a girl once who hated Christmas because of a few bad memories (which, like Frankie, she never explained); couldn’t escape them every year, and it totally prevented her from enjoying the season. I thought of her quite a bit while watching the film. How, as people, will all carry guilt, offense, troubles, hatred, and concerns with us, some which date back so far we don’t even remember how they began. I thought of how we try to escape them, sometimes literally, sometimes in our own privacy. I thought about how sad that is.
It takes a lot to inspire this kind of thought in us. And while I had some problems with the film (Allen Baron – very fine director and writer, not such a fine actor), it’s a pretty stunning accomplishment, especially for its time.